Fellow Ministers, High Commissioners and Ambassadors, Representative of GEO Member States and Participating Organisations, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen.


Let me start by thanking our host, Australia, for the hospitality.


It is a great honour for me to be here representing my country, South Africa, at this GEO Ministerial Summit.


I would like to recall that 17 years ago, during the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002, in Johannesburg, South Africa, it became evident that there was a need for concerted efforts to address the challenges our beloved Earth faces. The WSSD recognised that Earth observations played an important role in addressing these challenges. The establishment of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) was the Earth observation communities' response to the WSSD's commitment.


As we start this important event, I would like to reflect on the milestones achieved since the WSSD, especially towards the development of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), open access to data, contribution to a global agenda and the impact of Earth observations at regional, national and local level.


In 2007 the first GEO Ministerial Summit in Cape Town, South Africa, established a consensus on the development of GEOSS data-sharing principles.  The 2007 summit also committed to exploring ways and means for the sustained operation of the shared architectural GEOSS components and related information infrastructure, and for working together to improve the interoperability of and access to observation data and associated prediction and information systems. Digital Earth Australia, Digital Earth Africa and other similar regional data platforms that have emerged have sought to translate this vision into action. We are encouraged by the inclusion of emerging new components of GEOSS such as the GEO regional infrastructures and the GEO Knowledge Hub that are based on the co-design and co-development principle.


The 2015 Mexico City Ministerial Summit Declaration committed GEO to strengthen its focus on users and to develop new approaches for effective engagement with United Nations agencies and development banks, while engaging further to promote the role of participating organisations and the commercial sector. This, it was clear, would entail governments promoting GEO nationally and through their respective regional GEOs, not only to increase membership but to improve participation. The Industry Track during this 2019 GEO Week is one of the positive responses that the GEO community established following the Mexico City Declaration. It also supports one of the priorities GEO sought to focus on during South Africa's lead-co-chairmanship in 2019.


The GEO community has leveraged its unique position to foster strategic partnerships to coordinate and contribute to sustainable solutions to global challenges, identifying Earth observation needs and gaps, and developing knowledge information products to enable evidence-based policy and decision-making. GEO's efforts in engaging key stakeholders in supporting GEO's mission and vision and, more specifically, its engagement priorities (the UN 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction) are laudable. We encourage the GEO community to push the envelope, and to ensure that global citizens feel the impact and relevance of Earth observations.


GEO's Global Agricultural Monitoring (GEOGLAM) flagship initiative is an example of community-centered collaboration in the GEO Work Programme.  Working closely with countries, it has ensured that trusted, accurate and useful data is made available to users and decision makers. GEOGLAM Crop Monitor monthly reporting is useful for governments, the agricultural sector, insurance providers and other regional and national stakeholders, providing timely and actionable insights on crop information data. You have heard of the value of this in Uganda, for example, during the AfriGEO presentation yesterday.


I am very pleased about our regional initiative, AfriGEO. In this regard, I want to express my sincere appreciation to the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) in Kenya, which is hosting AfriGEO. The hosting of AfriGEO at RCMRD in Kenya is enabling us to jointly raise awareness of Earth observations (EO) and in particular of GEO in the continent.  We are, as a continent, starting to see value in EO data and the coordination of EO activities. South Africa will contribute to AfriGEO through its many initiatives. This will include the extension of the National Oceans and Coastal Information Management System (NOCIMS), which is currently at the centre of our efforts to grow the oceans economy's contribution to our GDP. I am pleased that, since the successful launch of our nanosatellite, ZACube-2 in December 2018, we are now able to enhance NOCIMS ocean traffic data. We are also in the process of establishing a regional node for the Global Observation System for Mercury and Digital Earth South Africa, among others.


From its inception to date, GEO has registered many successes, but we still have a long way to go. However, this is one of those journeys that should not be characterised by how fast we go, but how far we want to go. And, for us to go far, we need to go together.


I want to acknowledge Minister Canavan and the Australian Government again for hosting the Plenary and Summit, the GEO Secretariat for supporting the work of the Group on Earth Observations, and the GEO community for contributing to the building GEOSS.